Ok. So, you are feeling like you are finally ready to get healthy. You are overweight, feeling sluggish and ready for a change. You heard about this amazing diet and give it a go only to find that it doesn’t give the results you want or you rebound and gain back the weight you lost. After this failed attempt you feel worse about yourself than when you started, and you may even do little bit of stress eating. You have failed at yet another diet (that seemed to work for tons of other people) so it must be that you are the issue. You’re not strong enough and you don’t have enough self-control. This is called the dieter’s dilemma, a vicious cycle that messes with both mental and physical health. Luckily, however, it is a learned behavior which can be deconstructed.
One way to deconstruct the cycle of dieting is to eat in an intuitive way. Intuitive eating is an approach to nutrition and health that focuses on eating in a way that is more natural for a person’s body. One way to think about intuitive or mindful eating is to think of how a young child eats. When they are hungry they eat. When they are no longer hungry they stop eating. It is a very simple process in which their hunger is the greatest influencer. As we grow older, hunger is influenced by additional factors. Many people eat based upon a schedule, becoming “habitual eaters.” Meals occur at specific times with little variance or alteration. If someone has a bowl of ice cream right before they go to bed every night, this behavior is likely based upon habit rather than hunger. Many people are heavily influenced by environmental cues and become “social eaters.” This means that the sights, smells, and sounds of foods are their greatest influencers to eat. The smell of a co-worker’s french fries or sound of popcorn popping influence a person, even if they ate just a half an hour before.
Listening to external cues rather than internal signals can lead to regular overeating. By trying to silence the influence of external cues, eating becomes more childlike again. When hunger occurs then that means that it is time to eat. When you are no longer hungry and are satiated, that is the time to stop eating. It is a simple process that will take a little bit of effort and work, but will be worth it.** Figuring out the cues that your body gives you to signal hunger will be the first step in the process. Stomach growling is an obvious signal, but a less obvious signal may be thoughts drifting to food. Pay attention to these signals and maybe even keep track of them in a food journal. Have a plan of action to silence those external cues ready for when they come. Don’t be caught having to make an additional decision about what to do when those triggers hit. For example. your colleague at works brings M&M’s to share with everyone. Instead of passing by their desk to fill up your water bottle at the drinking fountain, take a different route to avoid the sight of them. Another think you can do is simply push the bowl aside to reinforce your decision to eat when hungry not simply because food is in front of you. As you work at this little by little, step by step and decision by decision, your ability to spot the triggers and more importantly active choose to avoid them will help you on your quest to get healthy.
**Added benefit: This is actually a great way to lose weight because you aren’t overeating on a regular basis.